NOTE TO MY BLOG FRIENDS OUTSIDE OF DENTON.
Today’s post is dealing with the issue here in Denton regarding a new energy plan submitted by our publicly owned utility – Denton Municipal Electric. Though perhaps not a concern for you where you are living outside Denton it could well be in the future as grassroots efforts around the country and around the world make strident steps to rid ourselves of dirty, finite fossil fuel sources.
Below is information that Tom “Smitty” Smith with Public Citizen Texas and Sharon Wilson with Earthworks presented for those of us who attended Keely Briggs’ District 2 meeting last Sunday at the Denton North Library. I have compiled it with the arguments Denton Municipal Electric (DME) makes regarding what they feel are the benefits of their Renewable Denton Plan.
This information along with that presented in a recent editorial by Adam Briggle and Devin Taylor (see link below) will hopefully broaden the understanding for Denton citizens about a decision that our City Council will soon be voting on within the next couple of weeks. It is important that we make the right choices for all of us as well as our children and their children who will be dealing with the crisis that finite, dirty sources of fossil fuel brings with them
I am delighted that our City Council, without any significant prodding, is considering an energy plan known as the Renewable Denton Plan that entails a significant increase of renewable energy while also divesting the city utility of its coal supplier at the Gibbons Creek station near Carlos, Texas, about 200 miles northwest of Houston.
The time and energy they have put in on this has been pretty exhaustive and their dedication to improving our energy policy and thus a better future for Denton is to be commended.
That being said however there appears to be a flaw in the decision to go with two natural gas (aka methane) powered plants intended to be used as a backup source of ready energy during peak times. Each power plant will be utilizing 6 reciprocating engines –like truck engines – which, according to Tom Smith with Public Citizen Texas “is an old school solution to the need to balance renewables when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.”
One of the three primary objectives of the Renewable Denton Plan (RDP) is to make our air cleaner in Denton. An important goal since Denton has the worst smog pollution in the DFW area as monitored by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) at the Denton Airport. A site by the way where one of these methane powered plants will be built. We are consistently above the 75 parts per billion(ppb) limit set by TCEQ. A limit that will drop to 70 ppb when the EPA’s Clean Air Act kicks in.
By using 12 reciprocating engines at these two planned power plants we will negate what gains we make by divesting ourselves of coal and raising our renewable energy from 40% to 70%. These engines will emit greater rates of pollution like nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than a new, more efficient natural gas-fired combined cycle plant would.
The DME plan that was presented to our City Council suggests that these pollutants will be dramatically lowered by generating our own energy from methane. However this assessment is based upon 1) the closing of the Gibbons Creek Coal-fired power plant and 2) information that doesn’t show other sources of pollution that are integral to producing our own energy.
The fact that we will no longer be using the Gibbons Creek coal-fired plant does not guarantee that that plant will shut down. There are other communities that use that dirty coal resource so unless they all join Denton in divesting themselves of this source the plant will remain open and the pollution it creates will continue to drift in our direction continuing to add to those high pollution rates I mentioned earlier.
Not mentioned with the data in Denton Municipal Energy’s RDP is other factors that contribute to our poor air quality. DME’s data shows only what pollution is minimized by conditions associated with converting methane to power at the two new plants. What it doesn’t show are all the factors that actually get the methane here to fire up those reciprocating engines.
First the methane has to be extracted from below the earth’s surface in shale rock formations. We all know that this requires fracking with a toxic cocktail to force that shale oil and gas from its confined housing.
According to Tom Smith who has deeply researched this issue, it will take “58 mature wells … to produce enough gas to fuel those engines.” In so doing this will generate 194,000 lbs. of VOCs from both plants each year. A pollutant that we are supposedly lowering by going 70% renewable and divesting ourselves of coal. These VOCs come from the methane, which by the way is an extremely potent green house gas. Methane is known to be 86 times more capable of trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 20-year period. Smith feels certain that the pipeline gas from these wells and compressors will come from those within the Denton area.
The wells themselves will contribute 14,500 tons per year (TPY) of CO2 and NOx each as well as 1450 TPY of VOCs, 580 TPY of fine particles along with 1450 other contaminates like heavy metals and benzene, a known carcinogen.
Also not factored into the lower emissions equation from DME’s analysis are the methane leaks that inevitably occur along the pipeline that goes from the well to various gas storage facilities and compressor stations before and after it’s received at the power plants. According to a 2014 EPA report on methane leaks “the estimate of total national emissions from leaks in the natural gas production, processing, transmission and storage segments for 2011 was 604,000 MT (megatons) of methane.” We can assume that this figure is much higher over the last 4 years as the increase in gas well drilling has escalated.
Then there are the costs of building these plants and producing the energy it is scheduled to supply us during peak periods of summer. The land purchase alone at the site near the airport is reported to be $6.5 million for 166 acres. The site off of Shepard Road in northeast Denton has yet to register a cost. The projected long-term cost to build these plants is currently at $225 million but we all know that over time inflation and unforeseen expenses will bloat that figure to a much larger amount.
DME’s plan assumes we will recoup our costs by generating energy that can be sold on the open market when ERCOT needs additional supplies to feed the grid, but the volatile pricing of the market will impact gains and losses. The price of methane is also likely to skyrocket once the U.S. starts exporting this product in the form of liquid natural gas (LNG).
Then there is this other data omission from DME on how these small peaking plants likely will not be able to pay for themselves:
– Despite these increases, the net revenues produced by the ERCOT markets in 2014 were lower than the estimated annualized cost of investing in any of these new technologies.
– For a new natural gas-fired combustion turbine, the estimated net revenue requirement is approximately $80 to $95 per kW-year. The net revenue in 2014 for a new gas turbine was calculated to be approximately $37 per kW-year. SOURCE
It behooves us all to revisit the decision to implement the Denton Renewable Plan with its questionable choice to build two methane powered gas plants. Move forward with the parts that divest us of coal and increases our renewables from 40% to 70% but delay the land purchase for those methane powered electric plants a while longer.
This will give us time, as Tom Petty says to “create a citizens commission of business, institutional, and residential consumers, energy efficiency and renewable energy specialist, environmentalists , air quality scientists to analyze alternatives” to serve as a back up source during peak times. This would be a small investment up front that will save us millions down the road, not to mention a better quality of life that eliminates all possible pollution that is inherent in fossil fuel energy sources.
Sharon Wilson’s “DON’T FEED FRACKING DENTON”
Devin Taylor and Adam Briggle: Time to ride the wave of renewable energy